Recommendations for Monitoring North American Sea Ducks

Information that improves our ability to manage and conserve sea duck populations includes population size, how that size is changing over time, and whether populations are made up of independent sub-units. This information, typically gathered through monitoring projects and surveys conducted over several years, affects harvest management and conservation planning decisions at regional, national, or continental scales.  

While North American waterfowl are generally well-monitored, sea ducks as a group are not.  Many sea duck species breed in remote northern areas or winter in marine environments that are both difficult and costly to access and monitor.  For instance, the Waterfowl Breeding Population and Habitat Survey (WBPHS), flown each spring and used as a basis for setting population goals for many North American waterfowl, does not cover core breeding ranges of about half of the sea duck species and is not optimally timed to capture peak counts of breeding sea ducks because many nest later than dabbling ducks. Additionally, some groups of sea ducks (e.g., scoters, goldeneyes, and mergansers) are not differentiated to species during the WBPHS and other surveys.  Consequently, for most species of sea ducks, we cannot accurately estimate abundance, relative densities, or population trends, nor determine abundance objectives. 

Since its inception, the SDJV has contributed a significant amount of funding to review and test survey methods and conduct reconnaissance surveys to determine the best way to monitor sea duck populations.  Recent advancements in aerial survey methods and results of experimental surveys will aid in developing monitoring strategies that are adapted to sea ducks.  However, additional work will be required to fill monitoring gaps, notably in relation to species for which there is a conservation concern and little or no monitoring data (e.g., scoters, Long-tailed Ducks).  

In 2018, a working group of the SDJV Continental Technical Team reviewed the recommendations from a 2007 SDJV report that identified monitoring needs for North American sea ducks. The resulting 2018 report prioritized monitoring actions that provide information to support management.

New and innovative methods, and long-term commitments, are clearly needed to improve monitoring of sea ducks.  The SDJV encourages federal and state agencies to continue funded surveys that provide sea duck data, revise existing surveys, and develop new surveys to expand the ability to measure abundance and trend of sea ducks.  The SDJV will continue to support research into methods of obtaining unbiased estimates of sea duck populations and distribution to better inform management decisions.